Tue, 10 Mar 2009 Black and White 2 review
God simulation game, likely a game deserving of a cult following
- Manufacturer: Feral Interactive
- Pros: Epic scale, fun powers, clever concept.
- Cons: Unwieldy controls, no multiplayer, limited tactics.
- Min specs: Mac 10.4 (Tiger), 10.5 (Leopard), Intel only.
- Price: $50 (around £36)
- Star rating:
Ever wanted to play God? Smite non-believers, cast miracles, and all that? In the Black and White game series, that’s just the first level. In this god simulator from designers Peter Molyneux and Ron Millar, your power and supernatural prowess is determined by how much worshippers fear and love you. With two guiding “consciences,” you can build a beautiful city and have the people adore you and your peaceful ways; or build a large army, conquer the land and have the people tremble before your wrath.
The plot of Black and White 2 begins as a “pure prayer” beckons you to return to your tribe of Greeks. You find that your people’s city is being ransacked by Aztecs, and through the course of the game you must confront the Aztecs, Norse, and Japanese in order to re-establish your people’s livelihood.
The developers seemingly threw together peoples throughout history without concern for chronology, geography, or common sense.
In practicality, Black and White 2 is one part city simulator, one part real time strategy (RTS) game, and oddly enough, one part pet simulator. The amalgam of the genres is not as awkward as it sounds, but does leave something to be desired.
During gameplay, you command a group of worshippers who need to build up their city and civilization. You assign them jobs, aid their society’s advancement with a magical anthropomorphic creature who you also need to guide, and ultimately command their armies should you choose a warlike path.
Unlike many other strategy games, the interface for Black and White 2 is stripped down. Your mouse guides a hand that can manipulate most of the world around you. By grabbing and placing civilians, you assign them a disciple status of a certain type- worshipper, forester, farmer, breeder, etc.
You can grab and place new buildings, roads, and even control your creature. A series of gestures allows you to cast spells and if you feel like being a wrathful god, you can throw people or throw rocks onto people.
While it’s a real thrill to throw rocks at enemy soldiers and there are times when your hand is really a useful tool, the game relies too heavily on the inexact mechanism. While trying to assign a disciple to a new job, I’d often end up dropping and killing it.
The hand is positively clumsy when trying to manipulate rock throwing, and I’d often end up slapping my creature when I meant to be petting him.
Training your creature is one of the most time-consuming elements of gameplay, and requires a great deal of micromanagement. You’ll be grateful that you trained your creature well when he successfully demolishes an enemy platoon.
But you’ll also get frustrated when you have to stop what you’re doing and discipline your creature for crapping on some villagers. The game does a good job of showing how the creature matures physically and develops his various skills--he’s your greatest weapon and tool to use; but even after training him for several levels, he’s still going to act like a moron when you need him most.
Part of this is the game’s universally abysmal artificial intelligence. Not only is your creature dumb (“I’m going to go munch on those rocks!” it says) but the citizen AI is also sickly stupid. You’ll welcome a migration to your city (hooray!) but they’ll then decide to stay outside your influence ring and slowly die out, thereby robbing you of their manpower.
On the plus side, once you figure out the AI’s ridiculously simple battle tactics, many of the missions are very easy to complete. I set up my wall with archers and because it was so close to the enemy rallying point, they constantly picked off enemy soldiers without me having to do anything. The enemy platoons, for their part, just stood there and wondered where the rain of arrows was coming from.